Friday, 21 April 2017

The Science Of Happiness (Not A Book Review)

I just completed reading The Science of Happiness by Stefan Klein and first chapter into the book I decided that this needs to be stuff of common knowledge. We spend our whole lives seeking happiness. Almost everything we do is to attain a sense of satisfaction and joy. No one ever wants to be sad. Yet we put dismal amount of effort to actually be happy. We keep expecting good things to happen to us without realizing that “good” is objective and happiness is more a state-of-mind than a state-of-life.

This book puts forward the neuroscience behind many of our concepts about happiness, sadness, satisfaction, love and desire. Translating everything into layman language I am going to interpret some general concepts about happiness that many of you might already know to be too ingrained in our minds that we forget the logical background of these, taking them for granted and preventing ourselves to actually follow them in our daily lives.

We have a happiness system
This means that happiness is not simply the absence of sadness, but it is something to be practiced despite the continuous struggles of life. Adult brain continues to change. Every time we gain new experiences, like reading a book, indulging in a hobby or going on a trip, new connections are forged in our network of nerve cells. What this implies is that no one is born a “Sunday’s child”, we can all learn to channel our energy. Connections in our brain determine how we feel and they are more easily formed in childhood. Genes too affect our ability to be happy, but only as much as destiny affects our life. WE CAN CHANGE IT. 
Since environment shapes an organism, brain can reprogram itself.
In order to control our feelings, we must first be aware of them. We feel a lot of emotions without analyzing the why or how of it. It is same as saying you have to accept your weaknesses to conquer it. Emotions are unconscious and beyond our control, but feelings, the realization of these emotions, can well be manipulated. But manipulating the brain is quite a task. The “All Is Well” theory actually works, but it takes skill and continued monitoring of emotions to deceive the master. Human beings don’t understand reason, they understand feelings. How many times have you taken a decision impulsively somehow knowing it is harmful? It is thus important to know the root of all our feelings and then reason with ourselves.

Positive feelings can extinguish negative ones and vice-versa
However, they sometimes occur together. In such times we have to choose which side we allow to take over.
The feedback system of pleasure and stress are connected. The expectation of pleasure can work in direct opposition to the things that are upsetting us. If you’re having a bad day at college, the pretext of going home and watching your favorite TV show can lighten up your mood. We can use this to our benefit in a lot of situations. Rewarding yourself with a cupcake after two hours of study can increase your productivity. Little joys that don’t usually matter a lot can still get the expectation system working and help ooze stress.
There are specific areas in the brain that control negative and positive emotions, thus reinforcing the idea that both can occur at the same time. When we control our negative feelings we increase the activity on the left side of our brain that is responsible for positive emotions. This sets a chain reaction in motion and we eventually learn to harbor positivity and shun negativity. Slowly, happiness can become a habit. But if we keep indulging in self-doubt and negativity, sadness can also become a habit.

Having focus can help us practice control over almost all our habits
For example, if you have a bad direction sense, paying attention only to the routes instead of the song playing in your car or the argument breaking out next to it, will help you memorize the routes slowly but definitely.
Similarly, when we focus on pain, the changes in the cerebral cortex make us still more sensitive to suffering. The perception of pain is atleast partially learned.

Passions and Desires 
In nature they are all good and we only have to avoid misuse and excess. That can happen only by becoming familiar. Animals experience emotions just like human beings but we have the added skill set required to resist our emotions and desires whether due to family pressure or just so that we can focus our time on our careers.

Human beings are never satisfied. 
What we want only makes us more hungry. There is an expectation system mechanism which releases excitement at the sight of something we want. However when this process is repeated over a certain time span, the expectation system gets used to the object and we want more of it or something else apart from it. Stronger stimulation is then required to activate the expectation system. This explains the theory that happiness and satisfaction are two very different but correlated terms. It is possible to be happy yet unsatisfied and vice-versa.

“But when we are open to different pleasures instead of stronger ones, the sense of delight is restored, and when the contrast is well chosen, our enjoyment is even more intense than before.”

There is a Robinson Crusoe theory, wherein writing down the good and bad things in our life side by side makes us realize that it could have been worse, that it is better to hold on to what we have and try to be satisfied.

These are all concepts and techniques to tame the mind. However, happiness is different for all of us. Learning the science behind it can give us a better perspective but we still need to work towards it. 

"There are 6 billion people on earth, and there are 6 billion paths to happiness"

Monday, 27 February 2017

The Bitter Truth

Trying to understand human emotions is like watching people on a Columbus. They look like a crazy bunch screaming on the top of their voices but it's only when you sit there yourself that you truly comprehend what it feels like to lose control of yourself and the screams are no longer singular beats of crazy excitement. They are reverberation of fear, uncertainty, ecstacy, energy, dizziness and the pathetic dedication to hold on, to be brave. When you sit for more rounds the ratio of fear over joy (for loss of more diverse terms) keeps diminishing. In human life too all the “firsts” are a lot more scary, a lot more painful and definitely more regretful than the “nexts”. This thought makes me look at the concept of enlightenment in a whole new light (pun intended). Gautam Budha perhaps achieved enlightenment when his ratio of joy over fear was infinity.

Most of us never dare sit on the Columbus again. A person like me would never achieve that stage where the sky kissing my face would make me “one with myself” and so for people like me the ratios of life will always only change marginally; never drastically enough to be guided out of this labyrinth.

At the center of this labyrinth is love. From here you might find the right way out or you might fall deeper and deeper back into the shadows. Who knows if you’ll ever get rescued then? It all depends on the people you love. Some will leave you to figure out your fate on your own. Some will hold your hand, unafraid of toil and suffering for as long as you promise them your own self. But what if you are too deeply lost to promise anybody anything that you don’t have possession of? Why are we expected to provide others the very thing we are in pursuit of?

This is why I believe it is most important in life to love yourself to an extent that nobody else’s love could bend or mend you. You do need your family, friends and lovers. But the person you need the most is you.

The dream is to have such power and control over your life, to be so self-sufficient that you don’t suffer anymore. And then in fact we can love more selflessly, without the baggage of getting ourselves hurt or hurting others. We can then look at people as they are, understand and accept their flaws and eventually learn to love better. Loving better for me means to put aside the pain and helplessness that is implicit in the act of loving. When you are happy and responsible for your happiness, you can carry anybody else’s sadness on your shoulders like a feather. What a wonderful, positive and desirable situation is that.

Let not human relations define you. You must not define them either. Everything in life is momental. Whenever there is a sharp shift in the momental routine you can either bend yourself or be standing while the road swerves beneath your feet. Walking on requires tremendous energy and willpower. For a chicken like me it requires all that courage I always need but never muster. To see with your own eyes your life crumbling into pieces ahead of the path and still going on with it is not meant for the weak hearted.

The point of this post is not to emphasize that being strong is difficult, but to emphasize that it sometimes is not in your hands. I just want to let everyone reading this know that if you’re weak right now, I too am. We all are sometimes. Knowing that is somehow cathartic. Thus I realize one more thing about human life. Collective grief helps soothe individual grief.

Saturday, 25 February 2017


When you spend all the summer vacations of your life in Himachal, staying away from the hills for more than two years changes a lot of thing (and change happens faster in a state of bereftness). So when the train rushed past a blur of familiar houses I couldn’t help but notice that Scorpios and i10s had replaced Maruti 800s outside the houses that were now lined with fences; perhaps the fear of deceit has shadowed the naïve town life too. Bungalows can now be spotted in midst of fields. Shops are lined together in semi-cut hills. But these developments couldn’t alter the known but obliterated calm that embraced me the moment I set foot in the land of Gods. Men draped in shawls over their kurtas, women with the same redness on their cheeks and the familiar joy of homecoming. I had grown so accustomed to Nana ji waiting for us at the railway station and Nani welcoming us at home with tea, I almost forgot that in the years that I grew young, they had grown old too. Coping with the disappointment at his absence I drew my head outside the auto window; in insane admiration of just normal people doing mere routine stuff. When my mother had asked the driver to pull down the binds he replied in my favorite pahaadi accent that it’s not so cold at this hour in the morning. 15 mins later he, in his zipper, was very coolly humming a song I didn’t understand while I sat shivering despite my three layers of clothing. Once back home, I spent my three days’ stay without internet and in the company of people I had forgotten how much I loved. The takeaway was more than just memories and peace of mind; rather it lies in the realization that we all still have hope to de-cluster, that there are people whose lives are not so complex and that family means not only blood but brotherhood. Utopia exists, after all.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Monster

Violence these days has become a tweet gone viral, with 140 characters of hatred and a hashtag of lunacy.

War is not the new shirt you’ve been saving that one morning you just wake up and go “I should wear this today”. And nations are not siblings, no. If you hide each other’s toys and then go on taking revenge on each others’ most loved possessions, don’t think mom’s going to help you when you end up pulling each others’ hair and breaking nail for nail. Dad’s not going o come home with presents and put you on his shoulders. No one is going to clean up the mess when you turn the house upside down and leave it all destroyed.

How easy it is to post “Modi is a coward afraid of war with Pakistan” and how painful it is to take bullets on your chest and bury your dead.

For every other headline saying “Delhi on red alert against attacks” there’s a normal citizen like me terrified of doing my normal things. The thought of a family member being blown away makes every inch of my skin tremble with fear.

If you call blood thirst courageous, I’d better find solace in cowardice. Of all the history I’ve mugged up in school, I don’t remember any war that has done us some good. But I do remember civilizations being wiped away and nations ripped off their social, economical and political stability due to war.

True that we need a solution.
True that we cannot and should not tolerate terrorism.

But I am sure war is not any obvious answer. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016


some days make me feel like there is a conspiracy against me in the world
everything topples down one by one
just when I think it better ended  something disastrous unfolds

I take in a deep sigh and whisper to myself, have courage young girl.
there are going to be days even worse in life
there are going to be days you'll have to choose between burning paths
and walk ahead without any loved one by your side
sometimes the fire will engulf your most precious people
and sometimes those people will themselves choose the other path.

some people will enter uninvited into your life and become a part of it
they will question your beliefs, your past, your insecurities
they'll think they can rescue you, take you out of this labyrinth
out beyond to the field Rumi wrote about
and indeed they will
they will hold your hand and guide you out of the blazing fire
but just when you're about to step inside the gate of bliss they'll vanish
vanish like a puff of smoke out of the fire they just extinguished
and there you'll be standing
one step forward from here will make you the girl you always dreamed to be,
the girl your mom will be proud of and the world will cherish

but the sad part is, you won't be able to move from here
your palm is still wet with the imprints of their fingers that were just held between yours
your mind still shelters their image and their promises
these thoughts running in your mind will again paralyze your strength
now your feet are heavier than a sack of milestones
you should have stopped

you'll curse yourself
though you knew all this while that you'll never have the courage to go alone from here
why did you hold their hand in the first place
you should have crossed the fire alone
but you wanted friendship and companionship
you wanted love
well girl, there's always a prize you have to pay for love
it's the most romanticized and longed emotion in the world so what made you think you'll get it so easily

now stand here
stand here and watch others go
learn from them
there's no fire here but you'll still burn with envy and lust

meanwhile, be brave

Thursday, 11 August 2016

To Write Or Not To Write

I am an occasional writer, or perhaps one aspiring to be. This realization dawns upon me as I sit down to write after a long time. I often feel an urge to pen down my thoughts but something or the other comes in the way of my bleak dedication. Be it lack of composite ideas, pre-occupation in some other work or mere shameless procrastination. However, I could fill pages if I had to write about my daily activities, my writing block or my apprehensions. But then I stop and ask myself- who would want to read all this? Who am I? A celebrity? A sports icon? An acclaimed actor? The truth is I am nothing; just a breathing piece of flesh in this vast universe ruled by numerous talented and twinkling stars. I am just a dull member of the galaxy clouded by the ever so magnificent moon. So I realize that if and when I wish to write I must consciously decide to distinguish the writing from the writer. It may pour itself into the pages like rain droplets hissing down the window pane but I must make sure that the window remains shut.

So what shall I write about? Love? Nah. It is cliché to the point that all of my poems end up glorifying the purpose, existence and importance of it regardless of the theme I had begun with. Also, I have never been in a relationship. I know nothing. (But isn’t it the job of a writer to imagine and create what is not there?)

So I tell myself to move beyond love and write a story about, umm, well, a war. A gruesome war narrative that would stir the soul of the reader by bringing to life the struggles of millions of those scarred from the clutches of the monster that destroys both the perpetrator and the preventer. But how could I even dare to think that I am capable of such an endeavor? I have no experience or research accomplishments whatsoever. How will I ever be able to understand the gravity without having sufficiently read, heard or searched?

Now I search for a lighter topic, something that would not be beyond my capabilities and something that could attract more readers. So I pick a recent controversy and plan to voice my opinion in order to give a new angle to the event. Finally, the nib of my pen touches the page of my new diary and I see that the ink has already dried up.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Book Review #1

The Bestseller She Wrote

Ravi Subramanian

Romantic Intrigue

Westland Ltd

275 INR

Ravi Subramanian, a banker-turned-author, is a famous bestselling author of seven books. TBSW is his 8th book and entirely different from his earlier ones that were set in the banking world. In this book too, the male protagonist is s banker-turned-author (I know, right?).

The story is set in modern day Mumbai where the protagonist Aditya Kapoor is settled as a bestselling author. Middle-aged Aditya lives there with his wife Maya and son Aryan. Maya is a caring wife who sacrificed her career as a banking professional and instead became an educationist.
Then enters Shreya Kaushik, a pretty, belligerent and straight forward management student. In a predictable turn of events, Aditya gets attracted to Shreya who is a good deal of years younger than him. Shreya, who wants to be a bestselling author like Aditya seeks this as an opportunity to make her foothold in the industry. I was confused throughout the novel whether Shreya actually had fallen in love with Aditya or it was mere fangirling gone wrong. However, Aditya is caught in a love triangle of sorts and heads on with the 'best of both worlds', until of course there's a twist in the tale and events get chaotic. How he deals with entangled relationships and whether he's able to come out of the web he weaved around for himself, read the book to find out.

When I had started reading the book I thought it would be another yound adult cliché and by most, if not all means, it turned out to be exactly that. The author at numerous occasions, by medium of dialogue between his characters, mocks the currently trending bestsellers by new Indian authors and how they simply sell trash. Ironically, he has managed to only marginally go beyond this category. In one dialogue his lead character is voicing her opinion on bestsellers - "push any book, however mediocre, through an aggressive sales campaign and you have a bestseller". This quote from the lead character should have been the tagline of this book! There are a few plot holes that I managed to notice because at some points the plot was getting boring. If you're a feminist, the book is rather likely to piss you off at a few instances. For the initial part of the novel, I was unable to create a vivid imagery of Shreya. In contrast, Aditya and Maya are nicely carved characters. There are other supporting characters like Sanjay, Aditya's friend, who are shaped well and play key roles in the plot. However, my favourite character has to be Maya. A strong-headed woman who is equally gentle when it comes to family and the society. Extremely courteous and sacrificing, she beautifully fills the gap Aditya leaves as an unreasonable and unable-to-create-fanbase protagonist. Despite the clichés, there are many positives that have made this book stand out in the shelf of this genre. One is definitely the writing style of Ravi Subramanian. He is among the many IIMalumunus-turned-author but a slight notch higher. Despite his professional background, he doesn't write like a boring banker. It shows that he hasn't simply become a writer, but has the skills. Steady vocabulary, quick paced narrative and relatable setting of the novel will more or less keep you glued.

I am reviewing The Bestseller She Wrote by Ravi Subramanian as a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!